Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

On Monday night I sat down and read Irène Némirovsky’s very short novel, Le Bal. I’ve been meaning to read Némirovsky for awhile now and luckily my French book group selected this feisty little story of revenge and mother-daughter disharmony for our April read. As the title suggests this is the story of a party—although it is really the story of a pair of horrible parents and their soon-to-be horrible daughter. And it is also the story of 1920s Paris and the rise of the nouveau riche, of social climbing and being desperate for public recognition. On top of all that, it is the story of a certain moment of adolescence when suddenly the adult world comes into frightening focus.

Némirovsky’s writing is a pleasure to read, all sharp corners and crisp sentences. And the kind of omniscient narrator who swoops in with exactly the right kind of stunning detail and careful framing. The kind of narrator who keeps out of the way, for the most part, and just gets the story out in front of the reader in the most efficient and elegant way possible. I knew that this year with so much contemporary fiction reading on my plate that I would relish any moment I could steal with older, modernist fiction. Such was the case with my hour with Némirovsky. A pure delight.

Such a tragedy that Némirovsky was not given the chance to lead a long, full life. In her very short life she wrote a considerable amount – not all of which has made its way into English. Just imagine what else she might have written if she hadn’t been killed at the age of 39…

I’ll be hunting up copies of her other works, starting of course with her earliest…Le Malentendu, a first novel written first as a short story and then published as a novel when she was only 18 years old.

6 Responses to “Irène Némirovsky – Le Bal”

  1. litlove

    I really MUST try Nemirovsky – I have been meaning to do so for such a very long time. This one sounds delightful.

  2. Lilian Nattel

    Her story is a sad and interesting one that I wasn’t familiar with. She was sent to Auschwitz not only as a Jew but as a “degenerate artist of Jewish hegemony.” And her last novel was in a notebook that her surviving daughter only read in old age, and then had it published to great success. It’s ironic to me, sad, but also uplifting somehow that millions of her books were read so long after she died.

  3. Stefanie

    I have yet to read her though I keep meaning to. This one sounds really good. Must put it on the list and must really get around to reading it!

  4. anothercookiecrumbles

    I started Suite Françoise last year, but had to abandon it mid-way, as I just didn’t have ample time to devote to the book at the time, and it seemed as though I was doing the book a terrible injustice. I’m planning on picking it up again next month, and hopefully my experience with her works will be similar to yours.

    The tragedy of her short life is unfortunate, but from a purely selfish point of view, I feel lucky that at least her writing was in abundance and I can read and enjoy them. And you know what they say – through art, artists live on, and so does Némirovsky.

  5. Michelle

    Litlove – It was a great little book, serious but also kind of funny. I think you’d love her.

    Lilian – Her story is so sad, isn’t it? But I am glad that so many people have “found” her since then.

    Stefanie – I’d really like to read more of her now that I’ve tried the first. I think she’s an incredible writer.

    Anothercookiecrumbles – Your experience with Némirovsky reminds me of a recent experience I had with Wallace Stegner. I started the book and knew I didn’t have the time to give it the read it deserved, so I stopped. And will hopefully start again this week now that things have calmed down. And yes, it is fortunate that Némirovsky can live on through her writing – that is a great consolation for the tragedy of her life.

    Genia – Merci beaucoup for the suggestion and the link. I will spend some time at the Memorial de la Shoah site…

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